Wednesday, December 17, 2014

I've Got That Joy, Joy, Joy...

Happy 3rd week of Advent!

The theme of joy has been strong for me this Advent. I shared that I am working on being more joyful this Advent season, or as Father helped sort out for me during spiritual direction, really just being more positive overall. See, joy is something that is more deeply rooted. I know that I have shared Aquinas' definition(s) of joy before because everything on this blog is cyclical, and I've been teaching the same course using the same lesson on joy for 4 years now.

But just for good measure (and my own sanity), I'm going to share them again. The Thomistic definitions that I share with my students are: delectatio (delight) vs. gaudium (joy). Delight is something that is sensory. I delight in music. I delight in coffee and chocolate. I delight in my students cracking a joke or a smile in class.

Joy is something deeper. Joy has to do with the attainment of the good. Just like Aquinas' definition of love: "The effective willing of the good of the other." Love and Joy are connected. When we attain the good, or joy, we want to share it, which can grow into love.

I have been focusing on this in my Advent prayer and in class, and I have had some tough reactions from my students this go around with this lesson. In the past, I may have gotten disagreements with the distinction between happiness or joy. There may have been some misunderstandings. But this year, I get...nothing. Almost no reaction to the material. And that startles me. Am I not getting the point across? Am I not being enthusiastic enough? How can these kids not care about JOY?!?!

Our culture, sadly, cares soooooo much about the sensory- what makes us happy. I have also been surprised this year about how many students think that happiness has the long lasting effect, and joy is temporary. The kids all want to be happy. But joy is much harder to understand and perhaps attain. And I make the point of saying that happiness is not always a good. Something can make us happy that isn't necessarily good for us. Joy is always about the good.

But then there is the whole thing about defining the good to begin with. Absolute truth is always hard for people to understand. People think that what is "the good" for one person is different for another. I want to be clear: "the good" is always the truth. And the truth is unchanging. Because God is unchanging.

All hope, however, is not lost. In this joy lesson, we also talk about prayer. And for me, prayer is a gateway to joy. It is an avenue for peace. My students often struggle with "how to pray" but my hope is not lost that they won't understand the importance of it. I know that they know it is important to pray. It's just convincing them to do it.

I wish that I could emphasize even more to them the joy that my friend Dan exhibited. I use with them quotes from Fr. James Martin's book "On Heaven and Mirth" and one of these quotes is "Holy people are joyful...because God is the source of all joy." I tell them that holy people may not always be "happy", but there is always this underlying peace and joy because they understand "the good" which is God.

Dan was holy and he was joyful. His joy came from his understanding of and relationship with God. And that transformed into love. The love and joy he had radiated from his person. Today is the 7th month anniversary of his death. This past weekend- Gaudate Sunday to be exact- was Dan's 34th birthday. It is not a coincidence that his birthday fell on the Sunday when we think about joy. I know that Dan had the most joyful birthday of all this year as he celebrated it with the angels and saints in complete union with our Lord.

My friends and I have committed to praying a rosary on the monthly anniversary of Dan's death. I said mine today reflecting with this little guy as I also reflect on the joy of the season...

Children are joyful because they are innocent and pure. When we start to mess with our knowledge of the truth and the good is when we start to mess with our joy.

So tonight, I'm praying about things that are joyful and meditating on things that bring joy.

I got much joy when I saw the liturgical color of WHITE on my iMissal calendar- Christmas is coming!!!
I received much joy meditating tonight with my Christmas lights on...

And this might be more happiness than joy, but my friends who make me funny memes bring me delight (and their friendship brings me joy).

You're welcome!

I'm going to use that meme forever.

Just an aside: the Pee Wee Christmas Special was one of the best ever recorded. If you can find that on the internetz, you are welcome in advance.

God bless you all! Keep the joy!


Monday, December 8, 2014

The Obligatory Advent Post! "Where are You?"

Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception and Second week of Advent! I have been meaning to formulate an Advent post for a while, but these things require time and inspiration which I've had plenty of the latter, but perhaps not very much of the former! But I'm not complaining. I like to stay busy. Busyness, however, seems to be the age old antagonist for a reflective Advent.

I have always been "that student" that starts projects way in advance so there is plenty of time to complete them. I am not a procrastinator. So in true form, I made sure to start thinking about how I was going to celebrate Advent well in advance. When home in Ohio visiting family, I like to go to a perpetual Adoration chapel on Lake Erie. I probably have posted about it before:

When I was home for Thanksgiving this year, I had a couple of days before the first Sunday of Advent to reflect. My thoughts went to the typical theme of Advent: waiting. I've always found the waiting during Advent to be pretty easy. I do not, however, find waiting in general to be an easy thing to do. So I started to think about this. What makes waiting during Advent so much easier than waiting in  "ordinary time", Lent, or the rest of the year?

I think waiting during Advent is easier because we know the outcome. We know that Christmas is going to come and that it's going to be great. We know that Jesus coming to earth was and is a good thing. So that makes the waiting much easier: we already know the outcome and we know it to be a positive one.

Waiting is much harder when we don't know what will be and we don't know if the outcome will be positive. The only way to make the waiting a little easier is to live in the present moment, not worry, and to trust. Much easier said than done!

So I am trying this Advent to really soak in and live that easy, joyful anticipation for Advent so that I can get good at it and apply it when the waiting isn't as easy. I'm trying to be more joyful in the present moment which hopefully will translate well past the Christmas season.

Today is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. At our school Mass, we went all out with the Marian music today: every song was Mary themed. I, myself, as a music minister usually try to diversify the selection a little more, but it seemed to be effective today, and I got a lot of compliments on the music for the liturgy.

The priest was a visiting priest and gave such an inspiring but simple homily. He examined the first reading for the feast which is the story of Adam and Eve. He brought to our attention that in this story we hear the first question that God ever asks mankind: "Where are you?". I had never thought of that before. The priest went on to apply that question to many aspects of our lives: where are we among the poor? Where are we in helping one another? Where are we with our relationship with God? And he told us to answer that question like Mary's fiat: "here I am."

It was such a beautiful way to connect Eve to Mary and us to the Scripture as well as apply it to the modern day. All in all what a homily should be! And it has given me something else to think about this Advent: Where am I truly in this present moment? Where am I in my commitment to God and joy this season?

It also relates to the book my women's group and I have been reading: Testimony of Hope by Cardinal Van Thuan. We had decided the last time that we met that we all needed to focus a little more on the virtue of Hope. There are many good points that the author makes in this text, but one that stood out for me ties in with these questions of the present moment. The cardinal points out that sometimes we are so focused on the "acts of God" that we miss God Himself. We focus on the results or outcome of our prayer rather than His presence in it. I just think that is another great insight as we contemplate active waiting in this time of Advent. Asking ourselves: "where are we?" and hoping that we can answer: "here I am- I am with my Lord."

I hope and pray that everyone is having a blessed Advent and happy "new" liturgical year!


Saturday, November 15, 2014

2014: Year in Review

I was at daily Mass yesterday and heard the words: "Today is Friday of the 32nd week in Ordinary Time" and thought to myself: WHAT.

That means, this Sunday is the Sunday of the 33rd week of Ordinary Time (yeah, I'm really good at Math and logic!) and that means soon it will be the Feast of Christ the King and THAT means ADVENT IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER. Which means it is the beginning of a new liturgical year! SOON!

At the risk of sounding incredibly cliche, I seriously have NO idea where 2014 went. And that's 'cause it was really busy. Just the way I like it.

2013 was a little rough. I spent the first chunk of it locked up studying for comps, the summer working another full-time job, and the winter adjusting being in a new place alone for the first time. At the beginning of 2014, I was determined to make 2014 a far superior year. And I think that it was a success.

As has become customary for me in November as the liturgical year comes to a close, I take a look back at the highlights of this year. Of course, this year was also highlighted by my friend Dan passing away, and Monday will mark the six month anniversary of his death. Again, I don't know where the time has gone.

Before I look back at the year, I want to quickly talk about this past weekend as it meant yet another retreat with teenagers for me. And that may sound like I'm being negative, but quite the opposite. Sure, it was a tough weekend. It gets harder to have that much energy for 72 + hours with kids half your age. But for those of you who follow me on social networks, you will have noticed that I discovered Timehop in recent months, and for this analytic girl, I love the app because it shows me where I have been and how far (or not) I have come.

This past weekend, as I was on Kairos V with students, my Timehop app showed a picture of me from my time at St. John's in Youth Ministry 8 years ago. I looked kind of the same, except my hair was much shorter and, though I'm sure you couldn't totally tell, my face looked a little brighter and less weary. The girl in that picture was 25. Singing and playing the guitar in front of a bunch of teenagers (WITH, I may add,  a girl who had been in her ministry for two years and is now also a teacher :) almost exactly like the scene that was occurring that very moment as I had just again, 8 years later, sang and played guitar in front of many teenagers on retreat.

In that picture 8 years ago, I was 25 and totally thrown into my work with the youth. Discerning a religious vocation, thinking that I might enter a convent. 8 years later, I am still totally thrown into my work with the youth, but have discerned religious life, and am still discerning what God's will is for me.

Is this arrested development? Or is this God actually making it clear what I am called to do? Although I am a little tired and worse for the wear, I still find the work that I do so important and still find satisfaction when I hear teenagers pray and give testimony to the work that God is doing in their lives. Is that vocation? Is it weird that I still don't know?!

I also shared this weekend with my students about my friend Dan in a new way. They all said that they were moved by his story. I still can't believe he's gone. But as I realized earlier this year and shared with them on retreat, my relationships that are truly rooted in God have stood the test of time. As I scrolled through pictures from this year and through old text messages, they are filled with friends that have been around and made the cut because they are lovely people and I believe that God has brought them into my life. And my relationships truly rooted in God give depth and meaning to something as sad and heartbreaking as what happened with Dan. I have spent much of my career teaching about the Paschal Mystery, but Dan truly lived it.

2014 is going to be a tough year to beat! But I am super positive right now and the other thing I've learned from this year is to be discerning, but to live in the present moment.

Here's to 2014 and to the (almost) New Year:

 Ringing in 2014 AC style- Atlantic City!

 2014: The Year of Art and 100 days of Happy spearheaded by my friend Nicole:

Turning 33 and celebrating Easter/Dyngus Day in Ohio:

 Saying goodbye to a dear friend...

But knowing that his shining light is still with us....grateful for my CUA friends and this girl this year:

2014 was also the Year of Wine Club with these ladies!

And the summer of the Eastern European Roadtrip with my bestie:

Nannying 2.0 is much better after a little summer travel:

Lots of beach and fun times:

4th official 5k :

And so many shows!!!!
Fall VA fun: 

What a weird, wild, but wonderful year. Like I said, beat that 2015!

Peace, Julia

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Something More

I meet with my spiritual director about once a month. It is usually just a check in: I tell him what is going on in my life and he suggest how I might best approach prayer in regards to wherever I am at in my life.

Tonight, before I went in, I thought to myself: I'm not sure what I'm going to tell him or talk about. Everything in my life right now is really good, stable. My prayer is somewhat consistent and fruitful, work always has its moments, but it is ultimately going well, and I have been traveling and keeping busy building relationships in my social life with people I care about.

So, I started to think about it, and I have been seeing this particular spiritual director for 5-6 years now. I started meeting with him a few months after I returned from the convent, and he has been a constant in my life since. He has helped me get back on my feet when my faith was a little bit shaken after my plans turned out to be different than what I thought. But for the past year or two at least, I wondered if I had really grown at all or made much progress spiritually as life has kind of "settled" (as we put it).

Father told me that whenever we meet, the idea of "more" comes to mind. What more can I give? What more does Christ want to give me? This is always my mode of thinking, too, as I am a natural born over achiever :) I always want to know what more I could be doing to improve myself...but this is less about self improvement and "more" (heh) about my relationship with Christ.

It's true that it took me a while to realize after leaving the convent that Christ still wanted to have a unique relationship with me; that He was still calling me to be His "beloved", just in a different way. It's interesting that St. John the Apostle has kind of followed me around in one way or another through his many titles over the past 10 years or so: St. John the Apostle, St. John the Evangelist, and St. John the Beloved are all titles of churches that I have been registered at and all titles for the same friend, evangelist, and follower of Christ.

I, too, have shared many of the same titles: friend, beloved, evangelist, and follower of Christ. And working with my spiritual director has helped me to continue to grow in these roles, even as the single, independent woman I am today.

To kind of hammer home this idea of "more" and what "more" Christ could be asking or trying to give, Father brought up the story from Mark's Gospel about the blind Bartimaeus. The story is somewhat familiar: blind beggar calls out to Jesus for help, Jesus asks him what he wants. The man says: "I want to see", Jesus heals him for his faith. Done and done. But going home tonight and re-reading the story, I picked up some nuances that gave me so much insight:

- the beggar calls out despite being rebuked. In fact, it makes him call out all the more.
- when the beggar hears that Jesus is coming by, he cries out all the more and louder. More. Hmmm.
- when Jesus finally tells the apostles to bring the blind beggar to him, they tell Bartimaeus to "take courage."
- Jesus asks what Bartimaeus wants, even though the answer might seem obvious. As if maybe there is something else that the blind man wants or that Jesus wants to give.

Anyways, this passage tonight really made me think and I hope to continue meditating on it and all that it could mean in that "more" that I am looking for with Jesus.

Finally, though everything is going well and things are "settled' as we called it, I could always use improvement when it comes to my tendency to dwell on the negative instead of the positive in certain situations. For this, we turned to OF COURSE St. Paul.

St. Paul, despite persecution and trial, was always able to look at the good and find the joy and meaning even in suffering. He was realistic, which is why I like him, but ultimately positive and CONFIDENT that good would come from suffering. I will also continue to look to Paul for inspiration of the more that I could get from being positive in negative situations, while still being realistic.

Tonight, I am grateful for many things, but mainly God's Word and for blessings like spiritual direction in my life!

I also had an incredible weekend of traveling over the holiday (Columbus Day) weekend to see some amazing friends that I do not see nearly often enough. Saturday, I drove up to Philly which has now become a fall tradition to spend time with a dear college friend who always inspires me with hope, peace, and joy. We always find random shops or pieces of art around Philly to inspire us. Here are some pics from last fall and this fall with said inspiration:
 My taking in a "fall flower"

My friend serving up some peanut butter, antique-store-shopping style...

And from this year's trip...You can't blame the Youth (but I often find a way ;)

I also drove up (after my Philly trip) to CT with some friends to see our mutual friend give a beautiful recital for his doctoral program at Yale. The recital was two pieces: one instrumental and one choral, and both beautiful! I am so in awe of the people God has placed and continues to place in my life

Besties after the recital!

Again, so grateful for so many things tonight. Can't wait to see what "more" God has in store!


Monday, October 6, 2014

Surrounded by So Great a Cloud of Witnesses

I picked Hebrews 12:1-3 as the url for this blog long before I really started to understand what this passage is about. I made the selection because it had to do with perseverance, and as a college friend once told me in my early 20s, to her I was "Perseverance Personified." I took it as a compliment then, and I still think it holds true today, though the details surrounding this passage have spoken to me in so many new ways since then:

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."

Since I started this blog seven years ago, I have come to learn more about what it means to throw off things that hinder. I have learned how to fix my eyes more closely on Jesus. And I have learned what it means not to grow weary or lose heart.

I'm sure I will continue to re-learn these things as I carry on to "run the race" marked out for me, for I still do not yet know fully all that that entails. I still do not know exactly what God has "marked out for me" and I'm not sure that we ever fully do. We just follow the part of the "trail" that He maps out for us at a time.

Today the part of this passage that struck me is the line regarding the "Cloud of Witnesses." I believe that I have blogged about this line before, but once again, I don't think I fully understood then what it would come to mean for me now, and I'm sure its meaning will continue to grow as I continue to "run" (slash jog/walk briskly which I've always been pretty clear about ;)

This week has been a powerhouse week for this "Cloud of Witnesses": namely, the Saints and people in heaven who look out for us and intercede for us. The week began with the feast of the Archangels (Sept 29), followed by St Jerome (Sept 30) (which may not be a powerhouse for some people, but for this nerdy Scripture scholar, creator of the Vulgate! Hello!). Then, of course, comes the Feast of The Little Flower, St. Therese, who is a fan favorite (Oct 1), and then the feast of our Guardian Angels (Oct 2). And today (Oct 4), the namesake of our current pope and another fan favorite, St. Francis of Assisi!

My parents were in town visiting from Ohio this week and I have always said (okay, well, probably not when I was a teenager) that my parents are way cooler than me. When I was living in the convent, I would call them and they would be out at bars, and they always have tickets to see my favorite bands (ie Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, The Black Keys, etc.) before me. They are busy every week giving tours of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by day, and rocking out at my dad's late night gigs by night. It was a blessing to have them here this week, but they kept me super busy and wore me out! In their early 60s, they some how have even more energy than me (which I guess isn't that much of a surprise, knowing how geriatric I truly am).

My parents rocking it in front of a piece of the Berlin Wall a couple of years ago at the Newseum.

So I was grateful to have the time in between late nights and early mornings this past week, the "Cloud of Witnesses" of these saints and their feasts to celebrate each day at Mass. Culminating, with the Feast of St. Francis today, Saturday, Oct. 4, for which, a Mass for my friend Dan Lyons was celebrated.

It is still hard for me to write about Dan in a way. I guess I still can't believe that he is gone, as generic as that sounds to say. But I have felt Dan's presence a few times since he has past and this Saturday, on my way to the early morning Mass was one of them.

Dan and I had a very playful relationship to say the least. I don't know how it was possible for Dan to be simultaneously the sweetest man but also the sassiest. He got my sarcasm and would give it right back, which is actually something I give bonus points for with my friends and relationships. But then he would give that incredibly sincere smile that humbled me and let me know he was only half being sassy with me just because he knew that was how I functioned and it was almost his way of reaching out and loving me. It makes me crazy to think that he was somehow messing with me and loving me at the same time! He definitely just got "it" a lot quicker than the rest of us do in so many ways.

When his wife told me about the Mass on Sat, I really wanted to be there, but it was early for a Saturday, even for my geriatric-bed-at-10pm self. I found myself simultaneously cursing at Dan and then smiling as I got in my car at 7am, but knowing this is was just his way, even from the next life, telling me that he loved me in the most enraging but perfect way.

We all, at times, struggle in our faith. I myself continue to struggle, even more so as I get older, with what I really believe, which is why I am once again grateful for the foundation I have been given. And I am grateful for moments like these that remind me that we are all connected and that life truly doesn't end. We have our loved ones in the "Great Cloud of Witnesses" to remind us of that. And I am grateful for that reminder.

I hope that you are enjoying fall! I'm gearing up for this to be the best fall ever!
Me in all of my gourd glory after some festival fall gourd picking!!!

During the fall, we often think about all things All Hallows Eve (Halloween!), but not so much the hallowed days which that eve leads up to...namely the days of All Saints (Nov.1) and All Souls (Nov. 2). I'm going to try and remember our Great Cloud of Witnesses not just on All Saints and All Souls Day but each day this season.

Thanks for reading!


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Seek and Ye Shall Find?

While I try to have my Facebook, Instagram, Vine, Twitter, and various social networks fool my followers into presuming the contrary, I can usually be found most nights on my couch in my Snuggie watching Jeopardy and going to bed at geriatric hours. (I am fully aware that I am fooling no one.)

In the spirit of my geriatric Jeopardy watching habits (and the subject matter for this post), I have entitled this blogpost in the form of a question. For anyone who is a Jeopardy watcher knows: woe to the person who falters in their question-answer, lest they face the wrath of Alex Trebek.

I feel that this picture best sums up Alex and the frightening National Treasure that he is...

This post is about questions. And more importantly, how those questions can help us grow in our faith. 

You may not even have felt the need to ask this question, but yes. I am back at school. And yes, the school year is off to a good start. The routine of teaching is almost old hat now- this now being my FIFTH year- but I am grateful for my students and for the prompting of the Holy Spirit for always keeping even the most routine curriculum interesting. 

I like to begin my sophomore course with an excerpt from a US Bishops' document on "Living Faith." I've probably mentioned it here before, because this is now my ninth semester teaching this course (ahhh...WHAT). It discusses that faith should be "living and active" and suggests some things that adults should do to foster their faith. 

One of the things that the bishops' suggest is to question. I always ask my students if they are surprised that the bishops would want us to question our faith. This year in particular, the students had much to say about this point, but not in the way that I expected. Usually students think that questioning could lead to the person leaving (not living) their faith or the students are apathetic entirely. This year, most of the kids were totally on board and agreed that questioning our faith is really the only way for our faith to grow, and I agree.

There is a danger when our faith becomes stagnant. Whether that be thinking that we know everything there possibly is to know about our faith and that we are sooooo holy and don't possibly need to learn anything more OR that we completely reject everything that we've heard and don't care to learn more. We can't grow if we are stagnant, so we must continually search and ask questions. 

One of my students even gave me new insight into a Scripture passage that I thought I had down. She mentioned the parable of Jesus saying that we need to have faith like a child. We often interpret this story to mean that we need to just accept and trust like a child, but she pointed out that kids are often asking questions: "Why? Why? WHY?" Amirite? So in order to have faith- faith like a child- we need to question. 
I thought that was brilliant. I'm so grateful that I have a job that nourishes me in my own faith.

The other piece that comes with questioning, though, is that we have to be open to an answer. Jesus also says, "Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door shall be opened." I, personally, have nooooo problems asking the questions, but it is trusting the answer that gets me. 

When a child asks a question, he or she trusts that you have the answer. They ask and then they accept. For me, it is not the questioning that is hard, but the acceptance. I have to trust that when I seek, when I ask, I will be given an answer and that it will be the answer that I was looking for.

I am forever asking the question: "Am I living it right?" (a la John Mayer "Why Georgia" circa 2002, of course)

Interestingly enough, neither Alex Trebeck nor John Mayer are men known for their humility or patience...

 And there's that temptation to look forward and backwards and say "if only" instead of trusting that God is doing His work right now in the present. I know this is a struggle for those of us who are single, but I've encountered it with some of my married friends with families, too. When I visit high school friends from Ohio, some of them do express concern with not having ever really left the town we grew up in. And likewise, I wonder if I could've done something differently to achieve the settled, stable status that they have acquired which seems to be the "American Dream."

But we know that comparing ourselves and asking those types of questions don't necessarily help us move forward. Those types of questions can actually make us become quite stagnant. They are helpful if they help us to accept where we are or move forward. They are not helpful if they make us quit searching as I discussed with my students earlier. 

I do question if I am sometimes off of the path that God has laid out for me. But it is this question that also keeps me coming back to Him. While many of my friends have found that great love of their life, I am reminded that my great love has been with God and His Church. He has taken me from Ohio to DC, to Guatemala to Spain, to NoVA to Greece to Poland. I've traveled all over this country meeting people in His Church through volunteer programs and have even gotten an inside glimpse on the vocation of religious life. And like that image of the child, I need to trust that God is taking me where I need to go.

When I question where I am and where I am going, the answer does ultimately bring me back to Him. So I must trust that my questions will continue to be answered in His way and in His Time as He has so many times before. 

I'm grateful for the journey The Lord has taken me on and that He continues to honor my questions with the love and patience of a Father and Friend. May we all learn to be patient with one another in our questions and with ourselves, but never stop searching.


Thursday, July 31, 2014

Choosing Happiness

I have been a life-long early riser. The girls I used to wake up at slumber parties at 6am will tell you this. (I would eventually learn to just entertain myself for three hours or so until the *normal* time for children who have sleepovers arose. I would do so by playing quietly with my friends' Barbies or memorizing the pictures and figurines in their respective bedrooms. That doesn't sound creepy, right?)

My propensity for early rising came in handy on our recent European journey as we had more time to see all of the things, and I've made a commitment to continue waking up early this summer so that I would have more "me" time and resent having to run off and spend my day watching someone else's child a lot less (I do really like the family and child I nanny!!! It's not them, it's totally me).

When I came back from my European "tour" ( i will be bougie and henceforth call it that ) and went to see Father for spiritual direction, he asked me how I was going to keep all of the graces received from the trip going. Well, that was a good question. I kinda shrugged my shoulders and said: "I dunno know. Keep praying and read Scripture?!" Standard Catholic spiritual direction answer.

So turns out, this getting up early in the summer and taking some time to do just that- pray and read Scripture- *is* the way that I am keeping the graces of my trip going. Because seriously without it, I could return quickly to the Debbie Downer I all too easily become most days out of the year.

NBC, please don't sue me for the use of this picture. The joke would really be on you...

Take for instance this morning: My body is sore and doing things that I'm pretty sure just come with being 33, but I DONT LIKE IT. I wobble to my bathroom and think to myself that I look like a 91 year old grandmother sans cane (not MY 91 year old grandmother, though, because that woman does vodka shots for breakfast and still mows her own backyard) meanwhile knocking a bottle of hot pink nail polish  (I think the color is actually called Cajun Shrimp. Actually, I know this because why would you name a nail color that? And please don't judge me for owning it...) off of my shelf immediately shattering it all over the commode and the wall. Cut to getting into my car and seeing that the tire pressure light is* still* on after I filled the tires with air yesterday meaning that I will have to now take my car in and figure out what to do with the child who will no doubt not love spending her morning in an auto repair shop instead of taking her dolls to the pool. 

We've all had these mornings, I'm sure. Minus the shrimp colored nail polish as we have already established that I'm probably the only woman who owns such a thing. I wanted to crawl out of my body and scream. The internet told me I needed to get the following things to remove nail polish from a wall: rubbing alcohol, a Mr. Clean Magic Eraser, water, soap, and acetone. But I knew that what I needed to do to right then was to pray.

I am now going to in a complete non-sequitur jump from talking about my trivial day to Thomistic philosophy because that is what I do.

I teach my students the difference between "joy" and "happiness" using St Thomas Aquinas' definitions (which I may have borrowed from Fr James Martin, SJ's book, "Between Heaven and Mirth." Check it out!). In Latin, the words are delectatio (delight) and gaudium (joy). Delight pertains to sensory things while Gaudium is “attainment of an object that one regards as good for oneself or another.” This goes along with Aquinas' definition of love which I know I've used over and over again: "the effective willing of the good of the other." Ergo, joy is connected to love.

I often point out to the students that a joyful person does not always have to be happy. We can love and attain the good and not be necessarily emotionally happy. Happiness is about the tangible things, the sensory. And while joy and love are the surperior good, we all know that our culture is obsessed with the sensory.

Where am I going with all of this???! Well, all of these things are a choice. We choose to do the good for others, which means we choose love and joy. Likewise, we can choose happiness.

It started with the Happiness Project for me- choosing to find one image of tangible happiness, something that I could point to, each day. Then came the grace of the European "tour" (ahem), and now I am choosing to see the positive in each day with the help of my daily prayer and God's grace.

So here are today's positives so far: When I took my car in today, the child did not freak out that we had to spend our morning perhaps not as planned. The repairmen quickly found the screw that had screwed my up my car (heh) and I was only out of $15 instead of a tire. The nail polish will still be there when I get home and I will deal with it after i get that pedicure I had planned with a friend. Thus, my happy for the day.

We can't let the lies of the devil or Facebook or both convince us that everyone else is happier than we are. As I tell my students, God's grace is a free gift always waiting there for us. We just have to choose to open it each day. You like that metaphor? Never go into a classroom without a metaphor. Pro tip.

Also, I refuse to acknowledge that tomorrow is the beginning of August. That may be a misuse of the choice for happiness but shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...let me have my happy for now.

Enjoy the rest of summer (while i do everything in my power to hold onto it!!)


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Grace and Dependence: The Continuation of Happiness

If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you most likely know what I have been up to and can probably guess what this post is going to be about: I just returned from (as my aunt called it) "the trip of a lifetime."


My teacher friend and I had planned this trip in the winter from hell in hopes that we would have something to get us through the tough season. I don't think we even realized what an amazing trip we had planned and the grace and happiness that it would truly bring.

We chose to fly into Budapest because it was the cheapest location central to some of the places on our list to travel. Budapest totally took us by surprise as it is a beautiful city. After a really long 24 hrs or so of travel, our adrenaline kept us up at least long enough to explore the city before we took off the next day for Vienna (a place that I had traveled before and fallen in love with long ago).

One of my favorite moments that first day in Budapest was exploring across the Chain Bridge and turning around to see this amazing view:

I was glad that we would get to return to Budapest at the end of our trip to explore and take in more.

We left the next day for Vienna. Oh, and did I mention we rented a car in Budapest as our plan was to drive through all of these great places? We had looked into trains and buses and polled some friends before we left and decided that the road trip would be the best, er, route. We had no real idea, though, if we could manage it without getting lost, the car stolen, or some other potential terrible thing that renting a car might bring upon us. We just put our trust in the Lord and in each other's abilities to get us through and to our pleasant surprise, the journey went without a hitch!

Well, except in Vienna. We arrived a little later because we hadn't quite figured out the GPS and it took us the rural way instead of the highway. But we got to see some of Bratislava, Slovakia, on our journey and we also learned that my friend is MUCH better with maps than I as we toured Vienna. She helped us find the main sites that we wanted to see. Unfortunately, because it took us a while to get to Vienna and figure all of this out, we didn't have as much time as we would've liked there. But we did get to see all of this:

people watching opera *outside* of the Vienna Opera House....pretty cool, huh?

I had been to Austria before, but my friend really wanted to go to Salzburg, which was on our way up to Germany, so we spent a day there. It really is one of the most beautiful cities that I've been to and I'm amazed that I am so blessed that I have been there twice now in my life:

The hills are truly alive in Salzburg!

From Salzburg, we did a quick dash to Munich and saw some cool buildings and churches which made me think that Disney's version of Germany is probably modeled after Munich:

Berlin was one of my favorite cities on the trip. We spent 2 nights there (as opposed to our quick one day, one night in each city) and took a walking tour which took us to some really eye opening places: the parking lot that now exists above Hitler's bunker, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the book burning plaza...there is so much of our modern history in Berlin which made it one of the most interesting places for me. It was also interesting to see how the city is responding to these recent moments in history. Art has really flourished as a result (just another reason why I enjoyed the city so much and hope to return). Also, currywurst isn't terrible :)

 Berlin by night.
 Quotes on Museum Island
 Currywurst isn't the worst. heh.

art on the Berlin Wall.

After the weekend in Berlin, we journeyed to Prague. And for me, this is where the spiritual portion of the journey sets in :)

We traveled to Prague on the Feast of St. Paul. We all know about my relationship/lovefest with St. Paul. We arrived in Prague and were a little overwhelmed by the city. I had heard that it was touristy, but it was much larger of a city that we had anticipated and our hostel was in "New Prague" as opposed to the more touristy "Old Prauge." We weren't sure what Prague had in store for us, but as we ventured towards the Old Town, we discovered the Prague that we had imagined and took a walking tour with our tour guide who became a new friend. OH and his name was PAUL. I took that as the first in a series of signs that God had got this trip and also all of the intentions that I had been carrying with me.

 Center of "Old Town"
Us with some new Norwegian friends and PAUL our tour guide and Czech beer expert!

After Prague, it was onto Poland. This, for me, was going to be one of the most important parts of the trip (though we really did pick some truly special places all around to visit!). We decided to hit up Czestochowa first before making our way to our hostel in Krakow.

For those of you who aren't familiar, Our Lady of Czestochowa is THE Marian devotion of Poland. She's like the Guadelupe of Poland. The Black Madonna icon has been around since like the 800-900s and has said to have many miracles attributed to it. It has survived wars, protected kings and castles, and I have heard about this icon for the past 33 years of my life. So for me, this was a very important pilgrimmage and I am SO grateful that my friend and travel companion understood that.

We arrived at Czestochowa at almost exactly the perfect time. The Black Madonna icon is only unveiled at certain hours of the day and we had come at just the right time. There were people waiting to get in when we arrived:

 people waiting to get into the Black Madonna chapel
 Icon behind the veil
 Our Lady of Czestochowa!

The icon was unveiled with much pomp and circumstance. There were trumpets and organ and singing as the icon was slowly revealed. I was struck by the silent reverence of the pilgrims there, however. In some countries, such a sight might have evoked wailing and screaming and flailing (i'm thinking Latin America or Italy- people with much more jovial and celebratory traditions) but in *my* homeland, we take things SERIOUSLY. It was quiet, but you could feel people pushing to get to the front to see her. Ah, silent, passive aggression. Something my family knows so well. It was all making sense now!

After the sign on St. Paul's feast day and this moment in Czestochowa, I really began to feel God's grace in this trip. I knew that it was going to be a blessed trip, but as I said, I don't think my friend and I could have predicted how pretty flawlessly this trip went. And I know it is because of God's grace.

We made it to Krakow and we both enjoyed the city much more than I think we thought we would. We made the trip to Auschwitz which could be a whole other blog post in and of itself. I was most saddened by the remnants of the crimes- hair, shoes, suitcases- saved from the victims who we all knew perished. The ray of hope in Auschwitz was seeing St. Maximilian Kolbe's cell where he starved to death in order to save another man. St. Pope John Paul II had left a candle there and it was yet another one of these grace filled moments of the trip. Getting to walk where St. JP2 had walked in the streets of Krakow, seeing where he once lived, and his office as a bishop was certainly another graced moment of the journey.

I swear that I started this post intending just to talk about the grace from this trip but I guess I couldn't do that without sharing the whole journey in detail! Needless to say, after Krakow, we journeyed back to Budapest, enjoyed our last day in Europe (ironically the 4th of July) at the Baths of Budapest:

and then safely returned our car to the Budapest airport where we flew to Moscow (of all places to celebrate freedom on the 4th) where we endured a pretty painful layover before the long flight home.

Phew! Okay. So NOW what I really intended to blog about: the grace I am feeling this summer after a very long winter. In my previous post, I told you about the 100 Days of Happiness that my friend had started because we were both having similar negative attitudes about the beginning of this year. In addition to committing to looking at the moments of happiness in my life for 100 days, I also planned this trip, signed up for an art class, and made a commitment to get outside of myself and enjoy time with others and doing things that *I* wanted to do.

And that, paired with God's grace, has made all the difference :)

The Sunday that I returned from Europe was still the July 4th holiday weekend, and so the priest at Sunday Mass preached a little about Independence (which we value sooo much. myself included!) vs Dependence. He made the point that while Independence IS certainly a gift, it is dependence that helps us in our relationship with God. That really made me meditate as someone who values her independence sooo much (because it allows me to plan amazing trips like this!) I have come to realize this year that I do need to depend on others and depend on God, as much as I like to go it alone at times.

So this post really ended up just being a trip journal more than a theological reflection, but I think I said what I wanted to say and that was this: this summer is going to be a good one because I have experienced God's grace and recognize that I depend on Him and others as well as my independence to achieve happiness.
May the 100+ days of happy continue in 2014!

I'm not even bitter this summer about my commitment to spend my days working with children! This first week of nannying has been great because I had my grace-filled trip abroad (and I think there must be a huge development from 4th to 5th grade that has also made baby girl much more independent, too!) Huzzah for summer!

 Baking cupcakes with her friend!
 Cupcakes are kind of our thing now...
And 90s sitcoms are far superior than the Disney Channel ones I endured last year.

St. Paul and Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us! I am so grateful for your intercession and blessing so far this year!